Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wishlist Wednesday: Cast-Iron Skillet

A cast-iron skillet is something I have wanted for a REALLY long time. I keep eyeing them every time I get the opportunity -- lifting them up, feeling their heft and dreaming about beautifully seared meats and crusty biscuits and peach cobbler and... and.. and.. and... beautifully roasted chicken!!!

On Monday, I was ridiculously jet-lagged but needed to get out of the house for an hour or so. So I did something very dangerous: I went to Williams-Sonoma where I drooled over the cast-iron pans on display there. I was able to hold off buying one. (Whew!) But then I kept thinking about it when I got home. And I got on Amazon. I ordered the new Hunger Games book -- and because you need to spend over $25 to get free shipping, I also broke down and ordered my long-desired 12" cast-iron skillet.

What?! I was weak with exhaustion. Plus, it was $18. And a sound investment.

I already have a perfectly adequate set of pans, including two lovely, large skillets. So why does cast iron rock my socks so much?

I'll tell you.

Let's start with performance. Cast-iron cookware is well-known for even distribution and retention of heat. This means that your food will cook evenly instead of having hot spots here and there. While cast-iron pans take a long time to heat up, once you get them going they cook like champs. As an added bonus, cast-iron pans can go directly from stove-top to oven and back again without a second thought.

Cast-iron withstands high temperatures, and sears meat beautifully. When seasoned properly, cast-iron is non-stick with no questionable chemical coating. It also lends a beautiful flavor to foods.

Moving on, let's talk about value (because, as the Barenaked Ladies so aptly put it, I'm all about value). Have you ever seen someone destroy a cast-iron pan? These things are indestructible! They last for generations. They are the tanks of cookware. If you can get past how pretty enameled cast-iron pieces are (Oy with the Le Creuset! I'm all verklempt over here.), I think you'll find that bare cast iron has a charm of its own, particularly when you consider their affordability.

Do I have you convinced yet? If not, you should hop on over to The Pioneer Woman Cooks for some cast-iron inspiration.

What do you have on your wishlist? Do you have any thoughts on cast-iron cookware? Any tips to share with me while I break in my new acquisition?
Leave a comment!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luscious Links: This Week for Dinner

While we're on the subject of planning menus, it's only fitting to introduce you to a fabulous blog to jump-start your menu planning -- or keep you motivated if you already do!

Jane Maynard started This Week for Dinner because she could never come up with menu ideas for her family. It has become a great place to find inspiration. Every week, Jane shares her menu plan, and others leave their menus in the comments. I frequently participate, when I'm on the ball, and I have found some awesome ideas and recipes that I have incorporated into my weekly meal plans. (Like the Bistro Chicken. It doesn't kid around.)

This blog is about simple food and fun. So pop in on Jane and take a peek at the great menu ideas, family-friendly recipes, and beautiful photography!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tips & Tricks: Weekly Menus

Did you see Julie & Julia? There's a part in that movie where Amy Adams' character, Julie Powell, states what a comfort it is to cook, knowing that if you combine the right ingredients under the right conditions, you get just the right result.

I know that at the end of a long day of work or school or picking up after little ones it can be really daunting to think of having to put together an evening meal. Some nights I come home after school and work and stare dolefully at the pile of dirty dishes in my messy kitchen and I just feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to feed myself. Still, if I can get myself going, making dinner can be pretty therapeutic. For me, it requires a fair bit of work and organization on my part to make that happen.

My mother taught me the value of making a weekly menu. She did this by example -- and by that what I mean is that we basically starved if she did not make a weekly menu. (Or we went out to eat... a lot.)

Writing out what I want to make during the week is honestly the wheel that keeps our household turning. It keeps us on budget and makes the week much more zen -- I have all the ingredients I need, and I know that I can make the meals I've planned. And I have a ready answer for the dreaded question, "What's for dinner?".

On Sunday night, I start by writing a list of meals that appeal to me. I move all the recipe cards I need to use during the week to the very front of my recipe box so I don't have to dig to find them as I need them. Then I break out my menu planning sheet and write out when I think we'll be making which meal. Then I flip my menu over and write out my grocery list.

And then I post my plan up in the top right corner of my blog. It keeps me honest. :) I also put the menu up on the fridge for easy access, and to help me remember to defrost anything that needs defrosting.

So here are my menu-planning tips:
  • Grab the grocery store ads while you make your menu -- that way you can plan your meals around what's on sale
  • Keep a list of meals that your family consistently likes. You can refer to this list whenever you get stuck deciding which meals to make. I keep mine on the computer and add to it every so often to keep from getting stuck in a rut.
  • Involve the whole family. More input means less work for you, and it means that your fellow diners will eat what you make. I love weeks when I hear P say that he can't wait for meatloaf on Tuesday because it was his request for the week. Makes me smile, and it creates an excitement about mealtime that I find infectious!
  • Plan to have nights when you won't cook. Don't get burned out -- plan nights to order pizza or check out the new Thai place down the street or go on a date with your sweetheart or a night out with friends.
  • Always keep a few things on hand that you can throw together in a pinch. I call these "Pantry Meals", and I'm always on the lookout for more to add to my repetoire. I also grab a freezer meal (I particularly like "Voila" meals from Bird's Eye -- try the Chicken Alfredo) if I know the week is going to be hectic. It's a lifesaver to have a plan B available when life happens, as it inevitably does.
  • Have one night of the week that is set. For example, we usually have breakfast for dinner on Fridays. It's a great way to start a tradition! And if you're always on the lookout for different recipes to try, it will never be boring.
  • Did you plan to make guacamole for taco night on Monday, but your avocados aren't ready yet? No problem. Because you have everything else on hand for meals during the week, you can shift things around as necessary. Just because you said that you're having lasagna on Saturday doesn't mean you have to keep it that way. The point is to use menu planning as a tool to help you manage the task of feeding your family. This is a no-guilt, panic-free zone. So you didn't make that fun recipe you wanted to try this week. No one is keeping score. Make it some other time.
  • If you're not familiar with Robin Miller, I recommend that you check out her cookbooks. Her philosophy, "cook once, use twice",  transforms leftovers from one night's meal into the next night's meal seamlessly. (Psst... they're also pretty healthy. Bonus!)
Do you plan a weekly menu? What are your strategies for getting dinner on the table?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guest Post @ The Busy Bean

Be sure to hop on over to The Busy Bean for a guest post by yours truly.

Here's a little preview:

While you're there, check out Colleen's Etsy shop for some seriously adorable bags and such!